On the June 26 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, right-wing pundit and syndicated columnist Ann Coulter falsely claimed that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "was working with Al Qaeda's top agents" and expressed surprise that host Chris Matthews "did not know that Saddam had sent his top agents to work with top agents from Al Qaeda." Coulter later compared Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's relationship with the Taliban to Saddam's relationship with Al Qaeda, saying, "Saddam was working with Al Qaeda, too!" However, investigations by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the 9-11 Commission found no evidence of an operational relationship between Saddam's regime and the terrorist organization. During her Hardball appearance, Coulter also falsely asserted that Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards "charge[d] a poverty group $50,000 for a speech" and that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) accused "evangelicals" of "hijacking America" in a June 23 speech.
Contrary to Coulter's claim that Hussein "was working with Al Qaeda" and that he "sent his top agents to work with top agents from Al Qaeda," a September 8, 2006, Senate Intelligence Committee report noted that "[p]ostwar findings indicate that Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa'ida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qa'ida to provide material or operational support." The report further noted that "[p]ostwar information indicates there were three instances in which al-Qa'ida communicated with representatives of Saddam's regime." The committee cited a meeting between an Iraqi intelligence officer and bin Laden in 1995, in which the officer reportedly rebuffed the Al Qaeda leader's request for support. The committee also noted intelligence indicating that an Al Qaeda operative traveled to Iraq in 1998 and 2002 to request a meeting with Saddam, but was refused in both cases.
The 9-11 Commission similarly found "no evidence" that contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda "developed into a collaborative operational relationship." Also, on April 5, the inspector general of the Defense Department declassified a report that reviewed the prewar intelligence-gathering activities conducted by the department's Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group (PCTEG), run by then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith. The report noted that the PCTEG had released alternative intelligence assessments asserting that "Iraq has been complicit in supporting al-Qaida terrorist activities." The report went on to describe the office's intelligence handling as "inappropriate" and specifically rebutted its assertion of Iraq-Al Qaeda ties. The report stated that "[t]he Intelligence Community discounted conclusions about the high degree of cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaida," adding in a footnote that it is "noteworthy" that the postwar debriefings of Saddam and other former high-ranking Iraqi government officials confirmed the intelligence community's assessment:
Noteworthy is that post-war debriefs of Saddam Hussein, [former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister] Tariq Aziz, [former Iraqi intelligence official Barzan Ibrahim Hasan] al-Tikriti, and [Al Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh] al-Libi as well as document exploitation by DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] all confirmed that the Intelligence Community was correct: Iraq and al-Qaida did not cooperate in all categories. The terms the Intelligence Community used to describe the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida were validated, "no conclusive signs," and "direct cooperation ... has not been established."
Coulter's made her false claim after Matthews noted that "40 percent of Americans believe that it was Iraq, Saddam Hussein, who attacked us on 9-11" and asked, "Does that concern you, that people are misinformed?" However, while Matthews prefaced the discussion by describing those who believe Saddam was behind 9-11 as "misinformed," he did not correct Coulter's subsequent false assertion Saddam "was working with Al Qaeda's top agents." Matthews clearly knew that was the case, having noted the Defense Department inspector general's report on the April 6 edition of Hardball, during which he asserted, "It's official. Saddam was not allied with Al Qaeda. Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11."
Later on the June 26 edition of Hardball, Coulter falsely claimed that Edwards "charge[d] a poverty group $50,000 for a speech." In fact, according to Edwards' personal financial disclosure for 2006, Edwards did not "charge a poverty group $50,000 for a speech."
According to that disclosure, Edwards received the following fees for speaking in 2006:
- $35,000 from the Hunter College Foundation Inc., City University of New York
- $32,000 from the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan
- $12,000 from the Gonzaga University Law School
- $32,000 from the International Housewares Association
- $16,000 from Mount Union College
- $32,000 from Regberg and Associates Inc.
- $40,000 from the Stanford in Government Public Policy Forum
- $32,000 from the Stanford Washington Research Group
- $44,000 from the University of California, Davis, Mondavi Center
- $40,000 from the University of Judaism
- $40,000 from the University of Texas-Pan American Foundation
- $40,000 from the Vanderbilt University Impact Series
- $20,000 from the Simmons School of Management Leadership Conference
Coulter was apparently distorting an earlier story about Edwards, noted by Media Matters for America, in which several media outlets reported that Edwards charged the University of California-Davis $55,000 for a January 2006 speech without noting that the cost was offset by ticket prices, according to the Edwards campaign.
Later in the program, Coulter falsely claimed that Obama "just gave this speech on evangelicals hijacking America." In fact, in the June 23 speech to which Coulter was apparently referring, Obama did not blame "evangelicals" for "hijacking America." Rather, he said "somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. It got hijacked. Part of it's because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, who've been all too eager to exploit what divides us." From the speech:
So doing the Lord's work is a thread that's run through our politics since the very beginning. And it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America means faith should have no role in public life. Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural without its reference to "the judgments of the Lord." Or King's "I Have a Dream" speech without its reference to "all of God's children." Or President Kennedy's Inaugural without the words, "here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own." At each of these junctures, by summoning a higher truth and embracing a universal faith, our leaders inspired ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things.
But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. It got hijacked. Part of it's because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, who've been all too eager to exploit what divides us. At every opportunity, they've told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design. There was even a time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich. I don't know what Bible they're reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version.
As Media Matters noted, on the June 25 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, in reference to the same speech, Coulter said, "I do think anyone named B. Hussein Obama should avoid using 'hijack' and 'religion' in the same sentence."
From the June 26 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: No, but 40 percent of Americans believe that it was Iraq, Saddam Hussein, who attacked us on 9-11. Does that concern you, that people are misinformed?
COULTER: No, but I think what -- well, yes --
MATTHEWS: It doesn't bother you?
COULTER: -- but --
MATTHEWS: That would explain why people supported --
COULTER: We do know --
MATTHEWS: -- the war.
COULTER: Look, I don't think that's a particularly good question. We also do know that Saddam --
MATTHEWS: It's the answer I'm asking if you're concerned about.
COULTER: Right. Well, this is why it's not a good question because we do know Saddam was working with Al Qaeda's top agents. That his intelligence agents --
MATTHEWS: OK, then you're right. Then the war --
COULTER: -- were working with them.
MATTHEWS: -- was well-founded because the war was based on WMD, on a threat from Iraq to us, and also posed on the idea that the terrorists are the people who attacked us on 9-11, and those are the people we attacked when we went to Iraq --
COULTER: We know --
MATTHEWS: -- then we're right in going to war.
COULTER: We know no single country attacked us because it was individual terrorists, and by the way, your team claims --
MATTHEWS: What team?
COULTER: -- to support the war in Afghanistan --
MATTHEWS: I'm just going by these poll questions.
COULTER: -- and Afghanistan didn't attack us on 9-11, either, Chris!
MATTHEWS: What -- but bin Laden did.
COULTER: Well, OK. He's not --
MATTHEWS: And bin Laden was --
COULTER: -- even a citizen of Afghanistan!
MATTHEWS: -- working with the Taliban. He was protected by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
COULTER: And -- and Al Qaeda was working with Saddam!
MATTHEWS: And that's why the American people supported the troops going into Afghanistan, and that's why, apparently --
COULTER: And we supported going into Iraq!
MATTHEWS: -- a good portion of the American people are still misinformed about why we went into Iraq.
COULTER: No, you're misinformed, including on the war you claim to support! Afghanistan did not attack us on 9-11! They were working with Al Qaeda!
COULTER: OK. Saddam was working with Al Qaeda, too!
MATTHEWS: He was?
COULTER: Yes! You --
MATTHEWS: Well, then, these people are right.
COULTER: If you did not know that Saddam --
MATTHEWS: No, this is great.
COULTER: -- had sent his top agents to work with top agents from Al Qaeda --
MATTHEWS: This is what I want to hear. We'll be right back with Ann Coulter. Thank you.
COULTER: I think we heard all we need to hear. The wife of a presidential candidate is asking me to stop speaking. No.
MATTHEWS: No, she said you should stop being so negative to people individually.
COULTER: Right, as opposed to bankrupting doctors by giving a shyster Las Vegas routine in front of juries, based on science --
COULTER: Wait. You said I'd have as long as I would have --
MATTHEWS: Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.
COULTER: -- and you instantly interrupt me.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead. Go ahead.
COULTER: As I was saying, doing these psychic routines in front of illiterate juries to bankrupt doctors, who now can't deliver babies, and to charge a poverty group $50,000 for a speech. Don't talk to me about how to use language.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My candidate, [Sen.] Barack Obama [D-IL], he is a churchgoer. He's reaching out to the religious part of the country, and he wants to turn the page and he wants to be friends. So, how can you call him godless?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can you call him godless?
COULTER: Well, he goes to kind of a crazy church where the minister praises [Libyan President Col. Muammar el-] Qaddafi and says we deserved 9-11. So, there are churches and churches, and, you know, he just gave this speech on --
COULTER: -- on evangelicals hijacking America, and I mean, it just seems to me, people are always saying you have to give up on abortion so the country will be united. Well, OK, how about you guys give up on abortion?
MATTHEWS: Ann Coulter, the name of the book is Godless. We have sold a lot of her books tonight. I don't know if I can go to confession fast enough.